samedi 1 novembre 2014

Bistro Urbain - No Tricks, Just Treats

There's something about eating by the window in Paris 10 on Halloween night, watching the ghouls, goblins,and witches strolling up and down rue du Faubourg Saint Denis - it all seems so, how do I say, sort of normal?  A short four-minute walk from the Gare de l'Est, you know you're already in dicey territory, but during an extended first-course chat with co-owner/brother Alexandre Urbain- actually, it was more Co. doing the chatting while I was nibbling on my warm slices of baguette and sipping a decent St. Nicolas Bourgueil - we learned that however seedy or perversely diverse or eclectic in a wino urinating against the wall kind of way (choose your PC term of preference) the neighborhood may appear, it's actually quite safe, safer than the more touristical 6th, so
Brothers Samuel and Alexandre Urbain
long as you avoid that little courtyard between the restaurant and the station where the unwashed locals are guzzling their cans of Bavaria 8.6 to work up the energy to harass tourists that are unfortunate enough to pass their way.  According to Alexandre, the police are too busy fining him for the occasional patron standing on the narrow terrace with a glass in hand than to actually do something about the obnoxious drunks.  After guiding a young delivery guy back from whence he came after bounding into the restaurant asking if he had come to the right cafe for a quick cup of java, Alexandre, with a forelorn look on his face, informed us, 'that's the 10th!"

The infamous lineup of tables against the wall, but note the 2 singles in the back, hint, hint.

Chef David Kokai mans the open kitchen in the back

Taking advantage of our strategic early arrival before the restaurant filled up so that we could snag that single table in the front between the vitrine and the bar, as opposed to the spatially challenged row of tables against the wall, our conversation extended into the first course, so I don't have any photos to show you.  Co's slab of grilled foie gras on brioche was excellent and creative, my mini-tower of  diced salmon and artichoke less so on both counts.  My palette and interest both woke up with the main course, risotto aux coquillages (palourdes, coques et moules) - the seafood fresh and succulent and the risotto providing a creamy, well-chosen base.  This time it was Co. who was less wowed by her lamb dish, souris d'agneau de 7 heures et coco de Pampol - the shoulder of meat was plentiful and tasty, but Co. isn't a big fan of the white beans that accompanied the meat.  I kept swapping moule-shell-fills of risotto for some spoonfuls of beans to spice up the evening's festivities and neither of us did much complaining, by that point well into the Bourgueil.

My satisfying main dish, shellfish and risotto

Co.'s copious lamb and beans

How many Paris chefs do everything well and then slough off on the dessert, or vice versa?  I'm pleased to say that is not the case at Urbain, where Co. and I partook of two great codas to the otherwise satisfying meal.  For me, the tartelette au pralin et chocolat noir was a no-brainer and it more than lived up to high expectations, despite its rather humble appearance.  Co.'s brioche 'perdue' et creme caramel/beurre sale met the challenge, and with a description like that, how could it go wrong?

Doesn't look like much, but the pralin/chocolat noir tartelette was epic

Ditto for the brioche 'perdue'

So the verdict is definitely favorable for Bistro Urbain.  Don't pay heed to those ridiculous comments on TripAdvisor about how the portions are so tiny and over-priced.  To those misguided remarks, my retort is a short and sweet 'bullshit'.  With the reasonably priced 3-course menu (35€), a minor supplement for one of the dishes (2,20€), a cafe (2€), and the Bourgueil (27€), the 101,20 total was more than correct.  Pretty cool, I thought, was a wine list categorized by price (less than 35€, less than 45€, less than 60€).  Never saw that before in Paris.  Your evening may not be as colorful on a non-Halloween evening, but you should come away from Bistro Urbain happy enough not to mind the underside of Paris on the walk back to the station.

103 rue du Faubourg Saint Denis
75010 Paris
tel. 01 42 46 32 49

samedi 27 septembre 2014

Le Servan - In With A Bang, Out With A Whimper

The nondescript facade of Le Servan, a converted coffee bar in the animated 11th belies a terrific, popular bistro, where Co. and I enjoyed an Indian summer Friday night dinner.  Sisters Katia and Tatiana Levha's hotspot features an ever-changing daily menu with Asian/French flair and the two sport hefty pedigrees in their kitchen bios.  Like nearly all the Parisian neo-bistrots, this one is small, but not as small as the 20-seater claimed on other sites.  One diner-like booth, several square tables, and a 4-seater bar can cram at least 30 for each of the two nightly servings.  The original hand-painted ceilings left intact, some mirrors, and a lot of windows facing the busy intersection of Chemin Vert and St. Maur, the atmosphere is anything but stuffy, and as long as you are able to let the din of a heavy contingent of high-volume American hipsters, gays, and twangy young coeds, you'll be able to concentrate on the food, which bears attention.

No fixed menu this time, instead you can pick from among four categories, zakouski (Greek, don't ask me why other than I guess it's hipper to say zakouski than mise en bouche), entrees, plats, and desserts.  Hedonistic splurgers if anything, we tackled each category, starting off with a bang (yes, the one in this post's title) - Asian-infused miniature shrimps with curry leaves (?) in a sauce reminiscence of Tonkatsu sauce, and a plate of soft, grilled peppers, salted and rolled in olive oil and cumin.  These were fiercely good - I could have taken two or three more helpings of each, along with Servan's excellent bread and wine - a reasonably priced Le Phacomochère (a coarse, spicy La Sorga Languedoc 37€), and this would have been one of my best meals of the year.  I'm really curious how another zakouski option - bulots and piments - was conjured.

Zakouski 1: tiny shrimps, 9€ (click to enlarge this or any of the other photos you see here)

Zakouski 2: peppers, 6€ - you eat these with your fingers, no one will mind

If the starters were superb, the entrees were excellent, a ceviche de lieu jaune (my favorite) and a calamar, pea pods, and cucumber dish.

Calamar, pea pods, cucumber 13€

Ceviche de lieu jaune, red onions, cucumber and red berries 12€

If the starters were superb, the entrees were excellent, the plats were pretty good - canard and lotte, both heavy on the cauliflower, respectively, below.

Canard, 24€

Lotte, 25€

If the starters were superb, etc. etc., the shared dessert was a disappointment - a tarte with red fruits was certainly tasty, but fairly pedestrian.  I forgot to take a photo, which I guess is telling - it looked okay, I just wasn't motivated enough to think about shooting it.  And yes, sports fans, we have a common mathematical trend which characterizes many of the bistrots I write about at this site - the negative correlation, characterized by a steady downward slope from initial to final dishes.  Don't get me wrong, at Le Servan, everything was good, just more so at the beginning.  In with a bang, out with a whimper.  Nonetheless, I really liked this place and will definitely be returning.  Apparently, according to our amiable waitress, the loud American bavard is pretty typical at Le Servan during weekends, so you've been warned.

32 rue St. Maur
75011 Paris
tel: 01 55 28 51 82
Advice: reserve about one week in advance, especially for Friday or Saturday nights.

Looking out Le Servan's window on a nice Friday evening

mardi 1 juillet 2014

Manger - One Plate Short of Perfection

To clear up the mystery right off the bat, that one plate was one we didn't receive.  I'll explain later.

Manger - a relatively new neobistro in the 11th on a quiet portion of rue Keller near Bastille.  Yes, 'Manger' is both the name of the restaurant and what you do there (aka: eat).  Design-wise, Manger is a looker.  Open kitchen, vast space, large skylight,  elegantly geometical lines and blacks and beiges.  I liked this place right off the bat - casual, hip staff, large black and white portraits of the four chefs who participate in the 57€ 'diner des chefs' fixed menu in the evenings and themed lunches according to the day.

If you don't opt for the fixed price menu, you have some interesting alternatives, including a raw bar selection - red tuna, marinated salmon or beef) and dim sum (wok vaporized options).  The special 'diner' is composed of four courses, each conceived by a different chef.

After a tasty mise-en-bouche of colin spread on small toasts, the 'diner' commenced.


This was more of a thick soup than a salad, accompanied with a dark brioche and mango ice - superb.

Next up:


Nothing too ostentatious here, but an amazing combination - damn excellent.

Number 3, number 3:


 Yours truly had the alternative (bottom) for this course, eschewing pig the way I am apt to do - in lieu of the cochon, I had Canette laquee aux epices a risotto d'epeautre, orange/ tandoori.  Co. relished her cochon and I couldn't deny the alternative (available on the ala carte menu, 25€) was impressive - that risotto, I need more. 

And for dessert:


 Eclairs aren't really my thing, but this one was well conceived.  It would have been nice to follow this up with a second dish, which is becoming modus operandi for dessert in other neobistrots around town.

Ah, yes, the dish that never came.  It might have been chocolate, it might have been something else.  But for some reason, I went into Manger thinking 5 chefs, 5 plates, and although the meal was excellent, at 57€, both Co. and I concluded that a 5th dish would have been appropriate.  Something was missing.  A couple patisseries at the end would have done the job.

Nonetheless, I should add that Executive chef William Pradeleix, who  worked with the renowned Hélène Darroze at the Connaught in London, has his apron in the right place.  A portion of the bill is relegated as a social contribution to the city's program for culinary training for unemployed Parisians.

To counterbalance the price, Manger has a more than reasonable wine list with several good inexpensive bottles to choose from.  I chose a St. Nicolas Bourgueil, as I am wont to do, and wasn't disappointed, especially at a mere 28€ for the bottle.  Total bill for two: 142€.

A year ago, the Conde Nast Traveler website dubbed Manger "the best new restaurant in Paris."  I wouldn't go that far, but it's definitely worth a visit.  

24, rue Keller
75011 Paris
tel: 01 43 38 69 15

samedi 19 avril 2014

Les Enfants Rouges - Blame It On The New York Times

Guilty as charged - like most everyone else in the neobistrot Les Enfants Rouges last Friday evening - Co. and I ended up there because of a one paragraph mention in an article titled 'France's New Wave of Chefs' that appeared in the March 29-30, 2014 edition of the International New York Times.  In this article, author/journalist Michael Steinberger makes the claim that it is foreign chefs who are the ones breaking new ground in the French restaurant scene, and buttresses his argument by highlighting four venues that "for the first time in a long time' is bringing French cuisine back to life.
I've already reviewed two of them here - Bones (which I liked, but Co. didn't) and Roseval (which we both agreed was way over-rated, and the arrogant, impolite staff didn't help matters).  A third, Albion, didn't look so hot when I checked out online descriptions and reviews.  The fourth did - the aforementioned Les Enfants Rouges - the focal venue for this installment.

Chef Dai Shinozuka
Here's what I think of Michael Steinberger - they shouldn't let him out of the Bronx (or wherever the hell he resides in the Big Apple).  I get it - you're a journalist, you have to come up with a catchy theme, so find a few new interesting bistrots in Paris with foreign chefs and, viola, you've got a theme.

Passing through the quaint Les Enfants Rouges market, with its food stands and quaint shops, we came upon the similarly named restaurant where I had reserved earlier in the week.  The name, by the way, has nothing to do with Chinese kids; rather, it's the name of an orphanage that used to exist in the area, where the children were clad in red clothing.  Les Enfants is another one of those small, storefront restaurants that are so common in Paris - even though we snagged a good little table off to the side, once the place filled up and the tables that ours sat between welcomed patrons in their chairs, we felt the big squeeze, and I was jabbed in the shoulder more than once by the guy sitting at the table behind me.

The room - another night (courtesy of  Paris Kitchen)
Things started off very nicely.  With only one other table occupied, by a single, elderly male, the place had a nice feel to it - we shared a little repartee with the waiter, and had a tasty amuse bouche of mushroom emulsion with lardon.  By the time the bread arrived, the place was transformed: Welcome to America.  Les Enfants was quickly filled with English-speakers and, being American myself (at least half of me), I think I know an American when I hear one, and trust me, they were all Americans.  The waitstaff consisted of a genial guy in his early 30s and the ever-smiling wife of Japanese chef Dai Shinozuka.  If you want to work at Les Enfants - and I think it's highly unlikely there are any openings - you'd better speak English.  If I heard the waiter explain in English what boudin noir was once, I heard it 20 times.  The banter grew louder and more obnoxious, Co. was virtually tackled by an impolite young female who butted her way before her to the toilettes, and that single guy I mentioned earlier ended up befriending  a poor quiet family trying to eat their dinner - he ended up standing by their table for 20 minutes relating his life story.  On to the food:

Co. enjoyed her boudin noir - it was prepared in a square that looked afar like a dark terrine, accompanied by a modest selection of fresh vegetables.  I had the marinated dorade, also accompanied with vegetables, and this was the highlight of the meal for me - excellent.  Here' what it looked like:
Marinated half-cooked dorade

The plates weren't nearly as intriguing as the entrees.  Solid dishes, but if this is the stuff of bringing Paris cooking back to life, good luck:

Stuffed calimar - Co. was underwhelmed and gave me one of two

Canette with vegetables and half a cooked pair

Both of these dishes were good, but not very memorable.  You know me, I'm not a big fan of pear, and I would have liked to have been asked how I wanted my canette prepared - it would have been rarer than this.

Desserts time - I ordered Les Enfant's much praised baba au rhum and Co. opted for the panacotta with chocolate and mint.  Both hit the spot - I could tell Co. liked her mousse-like panacotta because by the time I got around to asking her for a taste, it was gone.  My baba au rhum was delicate and moist - better than the one at Buerre Noisette?  Probably not, although Les Enfants would be in the running if, like Buerre Noisette, they would leave the bottle of rum on the table.

Baba au rhum - view 1

Baba au rhum -veiw 2 (can you spot the 27 differences in the two photos?)

I am happy/sad for Les Enfants.  The staff seem to have their heart into it, and chef Dai appears to be genuinely interested in shooting for, as Mr. Steinberger concludes, 'homey, totally satisfying French cooking.'  Is this one of the best new neobistrots in Paris, breaking new ground on the restaurant scene?  Hell no.  I can think of 20 venues off the top of my head that are more original.  What's so special about a foreign chef in the kitchen, if there's little evidence of that chef's origins in the cooking?  I don't get it.  It must be nice to get a mention in the New York Times.  About 20 years ago, I was quoted in an article, and my phone didn't stop ringing for two weeks.  Get your restaurant mentioned there and you're in business.  But it would be a shame if all that business consists solely of one-time tourist visits.  Not the way to build a loyal clientele.  Between a rock and a hard place, like our table.

Two 3-course menus at 38€ a pop, plus a 30€ bottle of Saint-Nicolas de Bourgueil L'Hurluberlu - the bio wine - we were informed that it was a biologique wine only after drinking it) a big disappointment, flat, tasted precariously like grape juice = 106€, sans cafe.

P.S.  It would be nice to hear from readers, but if you don't speak French, maybe you don't realize how to participate.  The way to comment on this blog is to look below each installment for the phrase 'Aucun commentaire'- (no comments) and click there.  If there are comments, there will be a number in front of 'commentaire.'  Please don't spam this blog with overly effusive praise ('this is one of the most informative sites on the Internet') along with a link to your Indian restaurant site.

9, rue de Beauce
75003 Paris
tel: 01 48 87 80 61
website:  looks like they haven't updated the uninformative site that existed before the current owners took over Les Enfants Rouge wine bar - lazy.

samedi 15 mars 2014

Bistro Bellet - Belly Up!

It's been a couple weeks since Co. and I checked the latest PLACE TO BE IN PARIS, Bistro Bellet in the 10th, not far from Gare de l'Est.   I'll keep this short because, you're busy, I'm busy, who hell has the time?  Plus, I really don't remember much about the visit anyway.  Too much interference courtesy of another terrific dinner at Septime last night - what a great place.

Okay, if Bistro Bellet was great, I would probably be saying it and remembering a whole lot more, but I ain't getting any younger and neither are the neurons in the memory center of my brain.  Don't mind me, you don't need to know that.  Okay, BB may not be great, but it's pretty damn good.  And the great thing about BB is they are open early and they close late.  You don't find that too often on the restaurant scene in Paris.  As Le Fooding inquires: Où trouver une bouillabaisse à 23 heures un vendredi ?  I hear you.

BB filled up pretty quickly not long after we arrived around 8 pm.  Big spacious room, a bit too bright for my taste, but comfortable nonetheless.  Before I get into the details, let me give you a piece of advice if you, like me and Co., follow the Google map (or your handy smartphone app) to find the best route from Gare de l'Est.  Let me tell you, that's a short - but colorful - walk, harmless, but a little dicey nonetheless.  The direct mapped route has you walking through the Passage du Desir.  Sounds pretty romantic, doesn't it?  Well, it sort of is, until you get to the end and you see these two giant closed doors chained and locked.  That's right, the map doesn't show that, which apparently appears around sundown when people are going to the restaurant and Google photographers are snug in their lairs.  Back the way we came to the next through street to rue Du Faubourg St. Denis, numero 84.  A mere glitch in an otherwise pleasant evening.

The more I ruminate here about the BB dinner, the more I realize I'm looking forward to going back.  Traditional French cuisine, regularly changing carte, and enough originality to merit the trip to a dead end and then back again.  Unfortunately, I didn't photograph the carte, so I can't remember the specific make up of the dishes, but have a look anyway:

Poisson and roquette - excellent

bouillabaisse à 21 heures - their specialty, and it lived up to expectation

Tarte chocolate - good as it looks, but you probably won't write your grandmother about it

Bouille Bellet - not too impressive

As for entrees, we weren't too intrigued by the 5 or so offerings, so we ended up splitting a pretty standard salade de legumes.  That put us in the 2-course 32€ category, in lieu of the 3-course 36€ option, but as mentioned, there were a couple supplements.  A decent 27€ bottle of Cahors, bringing the total to 101, with a couple dreaded supplements thrown in.  Basically, BB is a bright new addition to the Paris restaurant scene, moving us in the right direction in terms of less rigidity in opening hours, reservations, stodginess and bread (Sangaré Bakary, chez Thierry Breton).  You're not going to get blown away by François Chenel's originality in the kitchen, but you won't walk away unhappy.

84, rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis
75010 Paris
tel: 01 45 23 42 06
Website:  What website?

samedi 1 mars 2014

Caillebotte - Isn't It Romantic?

The answer is: NO! 
And the question certainly was relevant on the Friday evening that Co. and I visited Caillebotte, the relatively new offspring of Franck Baranger (the chef), and Edouard Bobin's popular venue Le Pantruche.  Located not far from the Gare St. Lazare and the Grandes Boulevards in the South Pigalle district, you are guaranteed to get lost if you follow Google maps.  I speak from experience.  By the way, the Friday evening in question was Feb. 14th, better known as St. Valentine's Day.  Well into our meal, as I gazed lovingly into Co.'s deep, dark eyes, she looked at me and whispered, "It isn't very romantic."

She had that right - more on the modern side of traditional, Caillebotte, despite the misleading images you'll find at Googe images, is intimate, but not in a good way.  The space is pretty tiny, and if you don't luck out like Co. and I did and get seated at one of the solo two-seat tables, you can expect to be scrunched in-between other diners and hearing every word they coo.  We were lucky, as I mentioned, but still had the ornery waitress glaring at us from time to time, I guess a function of the fact that we arrived around 8 pm for our 7:30 pm reservation and came within, I surmised, about another minute or two from having our table handed over to a female duo waiting eagerly at the bar.  Ignorantly following the Google map in lieu of my more reliable little red book (Paris by arrondissements), I got us about as far away in the opposite direction as humanly possible before a human with half a brain would stop and say, "I don't think we're going in the right direction."

Well, enough complaining, if there's one thing that definitely recommends Caillebotte, it's the one thing that really matters - the food.  And here I had no complaints.  For a 3-course 35€ menu (plus - and I guess I can complain as I am wont to do when this element rears its ugly head - some supplements), the quality was well up to par.  Here's the barely visible carte from the evening of our visit:

click to enlarge

Round one, the entrees, went to your's truly with the poulpes - a unique combination of egg yolk, mushroom cream, chantilly fumee, etc.  Excellent.  Co.'s salade de legume d'hiver was less impressive, and pretty sparse when it came to the key ingredient that lured her in that direction, the smoked eel.  Still, pretty tasty with the chevre and parmesan crumble.

Salsifis aux poulpes de roche (+2€)

Salade de legumes d'hiver

Things stayed on a high note with the main plates.  I happily went with the one fish dish on the menu, the pave de lieu jaune, replete with the chapelure de pain brulee, cauliflower mousseline, and bouillon parmesan - the combination hit the spot.  Co. perked up with the scallops dish, St. Jacques d'Erquy, with fenouil de cafe and mousse d'oursine.  I remember reading a comment online from a dissatisfied diner who claimed to have been served unfresh scallops - no problem in that regard for Co.

Lieu jeune - terrible photo, I know, but sometimes with food porn, you've got to live with grainy.

St. Jacques d'Erquy (+5)

 Desserts hit the hat trick.

Biscuits russes (me, the sucker for anything pralinee)

Mousee au chocolate - not what you'd expect (in a good way, with black olives)

All told, with the two 'menus,' the supplements, a reasonably priced Pinot noir (25€), and one espresso (2€), the whole shebang came to a respectable 104€.  By dessert time, the St. Valentine's vultures - the ones with reservations for the 9:30 second seating - had begun to hover in the foyer and things got about as unromantic as possible.  The waitresses were stressed, the first sitting diners were lingering (me, over a cafe), and who knows what from the patrons who casually arrived a good half hour after us.  Not exactly the best ambiance, I grant you.   It may not be your candlelit lover's hideaway, and it may be spatially challenged, but as long as the food stays this good, they'll keep a-comin'.

8 rue Hippolyte Lebas
75009 Paris
01 53 20 88 70
website:  don't think so.